An Invisible Problem
Hearing impairment s is one of the most common health problems in this country (along with arthritis and hypertension). However, it may be the most undetected and untreated problems in adults. The person with the hearing problem is often the last one to become aware of it. As a result, many people delay getting help for several years, even when family, friends, and co-workers notice the symptoms.
Understanding four common characteristics of impaired hearing may explain why it often goes undetected.
Four characteristics of hearing deficiency
Gradual damage to hearing.
It can develop so slowly that you are not aware of any change from year to year. A loss of one decibel of hearing each year is not noticeable, but 10 or 20 years of gradual loss can lead to a very significant–but unnoticed–hearing problem.
Partial hearing loss.
You can develop a hearing loss for sounds in the speech clarity range, but still have normal hearing sensitivity for many of the sounds around you. That’s why someone with early stage hearing loss may say, “I can hear people talking…I just can’t understand them.”
Damage to hearing is painless.
Although tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear) may accompany hearing loss, usually there is no feeling or sensation that alerts you to a change in hearing.
Hearing loss is invisible.
You cannot detect hearing loss by looking in someone’s ears. Only an audiologic evaluation can determine whether a hearing loss is present.
Because of these characteristics, it is understandable that someone in the early stages of losing their hearing often believes there is no problem, despite what family and friends say. Unfortunately, the person may then put off getting help for several years.
If you think you know someone who has an undetected hearing impairment, please ask him or her to read this article. The first step isn’t hearing aids – it’s a comprehensive audiologic assessment.
Hearing Loss in adults
Common signs include:
- Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
- Feeling that people mumble or fail to speak clearly.
- Turning up the volume on your tv or radio louder than others prefer.
- Avoiding social situations.
- Feeling anxious going to a social engagement because of possible communication difficulty.
- Having difficulty following conversations in a room with background noise.
- Often misunderstanding what people say.
These problems affect everyone at one time or another. However, if you or others are noticing that you are having increasing or frequent difficulties, you may have a hearing loss. Any concerns about hearing should be addressed with a comprehensive audiologic examination by a Doctor of Audiology.
How we hear
Better understanding of hearing and hearing loss begins by understanding how we hear.
Sound waves are collected by the outer ear and channeled along the ear canal to the eardrum. When sound hits the eardrum, the impact creates vibrations which, in turn, cause three bones in the middle ear to move. The smallest of these bones, the stapes, fits into the oval window between the middle and inner ear. When the oval window vibrates, fluid in the inner ear transmits the vibrations into the hearing organ, called the cochlea.
In the inner ear, thousands of microscopic hair cells are bent by the wave-like action of fluid inside the cochlea. The bending of these hairs sets off nerve impulses which are then passed through the auditory nerve to the hearing center of the brain. This center translates the impulses into sounds the brain can recognize.
The information provided here is general in nature. If you need further information, please consult your local Audiologist.
Types of hearing loss
There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
A conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the ear canal, eardrum or middle ear.
A sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve.
Damage can be caused by:
The natural aging process
Exposure to loud or constant noise
Illness or birth defects
A sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent, but can usually be managed with properly prescribed hearing aids.
A mixed hearing loss occurs when someone has a combination of a sensorineural hearing loss and a conductive hearing loss.
How to protect your hearing
Protect your hearing and have it checked on a regular basis
In today’s world, hazardous noise levels have become part of our daily lives. This can come from traffic, construction and lawnmowers.
On the job, noise is generated by office or industrial equipment, machinery and power tools. Even recreational activities such as hunting, snowmobiling, and listening to loud music can adversely affect your hearing.
You need to protect your hearing because it is irreplaceable. Avoid harmful noise levels. If you have to shout to be heard or if speech sounds muffled after leaving a noisy area, then the level is too high. Hearing protection should be worn in noisy environments and a wide variety of general or specialized earplugs are available at Brampton Audiology.